Spring 2021 Insight Employer Newsletter
3 ways employers can save with a Health Savings Account (HSA)
As a way to help their employees pay for qualified medical expenses, employers that offer a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) may be able to combine it with a Health Savings Account (HSA). Approximately 29 million Americans have an HSA, and balances of these accounts total more than $73.5 billion, according to the 2020 Midyear Devenir HSA Research Report.
HSAs provide many benefits to employees and can be a great way for them to save money on taxes* and save for the future. However, you as an employer can also benefit from HSAs, and the savings can really add up. Here are three main benefits you can realize with HSAs:
- Drive down monthly premiums
Anyone who wants to open an HSA must enroll in a qualifying high deductible health plan. One of the benefits of a high deductible health plan is that monthly premiums lower than traditional health plans. This is true for both employees and employers.
As an employer, the money you save in premiums can be put back in the business or can be used to contribute to your employees’ HSAs. Why could it be a good idea to contribute money to your employees’ HSAs? Let’s move on to benefit number two.
- Reduce FICA obligations
When your employees contribute to their HSAs through payroll deductions, the contribution is made pre-tax, which saves you their portion of FICA taxes (7.65 percent). Add that up across every employee account and you could have a healthy boost to your bottom line.
- Make tax-deductible contributions
When employers contribute money to their employees’ HSAs, 100 percent of those contributions are tax deductible. HSA tax savings are exclusive to employees and employers. Others can contribute to someone’s HSA but cannot realize tax savings.
Employee contributions can be taken pre-tax through payroll deductions, although any contributions they make after taxes can be tax deductible. However, when employees contribute to their HSA through payroll deductions, employers, you included, can receive a third benefit.
If you currently offer a HDHP, check with your account manager to see if you’re eligible to add an HSA, too. It’s something you can do at any time during your plan year.
We make managing an HSA easy
Independent Health is proud to partner with HealthEquity, the leading administrator of HSAs in the nation. Through this collaboration, Independent Health is the only health plan in Western New York that offers an HSA product with complete automated enrollment and claims payment solutions that makes it easier for employers and their employees to manage, use and maximize an HSA. Visit our website to learn more.
What you need to know about the COBRA subsidy provision under the ARPA
On March 11, President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package aimed to alleviate the financial burden from COVID on middle income families and provide funding for public health efforts.
Among the dozens of provisions is one that provides for a COBRA premium subsidy, effective April 1, 2021 through September 30, 2021, for Assistance-Eligible Individuals who lost group health plan coverage due to an involuntary termination or a reduction of hours. The Assistance-Eligible Individuals will not receive a payment of the premium assistance. Instead, the premium will be paid by the employer, who will be reimbursed through a COBRA premium assistance credit. While the ARPA is a federal law, the premium assistance is also available for group health insurance required under state mini-COBRA laws.
As your trusted advisor and partner in health, Independent Health would like to provide you with the answers to four questions about the COBRA premium subsidy that our account managers have most frequently received:
- Who is considered an Assistance-Eligible Individual?
A COBRA participant is considered a “Assistance-Eligible Individual” under ARPA if they are eligible for COBRA from April 1, 2021 to September 30, 2021 because of:
- Involuntary termination; or,
- Reduced hours of employment (such as due to a change in a business’s hours of operations, a change from full-time to part-time status, taking of a temporary leave of absence, or an individual’s participation in a lawful labor strike, as long as the individual remains an employee at the time that hours are reduced).
In addition, a qualified beneficiary whose qualifying event was a reduction in hours or an involuntary termination of employment prior to April 1, 2021 and who did not elect COBRA continuation coverage when it was first offered prior to that date or who elected COBRA continuation coverage who may have dropped COBRA continuation coverage because he or she was unable to continue paying the premium may have an additional election opportunity at this time. For details, see Question 5 in the Department of Labor’s Frequently Asked Questions.
However, a qualified beneficiary is not eligible for the premium assistance if they are eligible for coverage under another group health plan or Medicare.
- Who is responsible for notifying Assistance-Eligible Individuals?
In accordance with the provision of the ARPA, employers are required to notify their Assistance-Eligible Individuals using Model Notices that are on the Department of Labor website.
- How does this provision impact employers who have COBRA participants who are directly billed by Independent Health?
Independent Health has already sent premium invoices to Direct Bill COBRA (DBC) participants for April and May. Independent Health will be reaching out directly to Assistance-Eligible Individuals who paid their April or May premiums to see if they want a refund or credit for October and November. This will be the participant’s choice.
Employers will need to identify the Assistance-Eligible Individuals and provide their names to their Independent Health account manager by April 30, 2021. Independent Health will then send the employer one invoice for the April, May and June COBRA premiums for the Assistance-Eligible Individuals they identify, and then monthly invoices for July, August and September. For groups with more than one Assistance-Eligible Individual, we will send a consolidated bill. DBC participants who are identified as not being assistance eligible will remain on the Independent Health DBC billing system. In addition to identifying Assistance-Eligible Individuals, employers will also be responsible to maintain COBRA eligibility records and provide us with applicable election/termination information for their employees.
- How will employers receive the payroll tax credit?
Information on how groups can obtain the tax credit to recoup the premiums paid for Assistance-Eligible Individuals has yet to be released. However, we expect the Internal Revenue Service to issue additional guidance soon.
To learn more about the COBRA premium subsidy, please visit the Department of Labor website. You should also contact your consultants and legal advisors about the specific actions your group may need to take to comply with this legislation.
Creating a culture that supports the mental health of your employees
By George Burnett, M.D., Medical Director, Behavioral Health, Independent Health
For more than 70 years, May has been observed as National Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States. Mental health issues continue to be a growing concern for employers and their employees, both personally and professionally. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, about 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness each year, but only 40% seek the necessary help.
To complicate matters further, a survey conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that about 41% of adults "reported an adverse mental or behavioral health condition" as the result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mental illness refers to a wide range of mental and behavioral health conditions that affect your mood, thinking and behavior. Examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders and addictive behaviors.
Unfortunately, the challenges and hardships we currently face as a nation have created new barriers for people already suffering from mental illness and substance use disorders. Fear, frustration, sadness and loneliness has led to a significant rise in depression and anxiety over the past year. Millions of Americans are coping with the daily stress and burnout that comes with working from home.
The good news is mental illness is treatable. Therefore, now more than ever, employers have the opportunity to make a difference by creating a culture that truly supports and values the mental health of their employees.
Start by breaking the stigma
Employees experiencing mental health issues and disorders need help and hope. They may be uncertain how their condition will be viewed at work. They often feel unsupported, misunderstood or the subject of an associated stigma – so they may suffer alone.
Knowing it is okay to care is the first step. For most employers, managers and human resources departments, they do care and want to break the stigma that’s associated with mental health. It’s just they simply don’t know where to begin.
Mental health issues can be hard to recognize. Managers may especially feel ill prepared without the resources they need to address issues and offer proper support. However, by increasing awareness and providing education and tools to their leadership team and employees, organizations can demonstrate they have a culture that is caring, knowledgeable and supportive.
How Independent Health can help
Independent Health is here to make it easier for employers to develop their own mental health program. We have teamed up with Horizon Health Services, one of the largest providers of outpatient mental health and substance use treatment in Western New York, to help employers recognize the signs of mental illness, understand what the employee is dealing with and respond appropriately during what may be a difficult conversation.
Through this partnership, a comprehensive online and in-person approach has been developed to help employers create a workplace that supports mental health with training for leaders that includes:
- Learning about what they might see, how they play a role, how to recognize and manage a workplace issue, and available resources.
- Recognizing the signs of mental illness and feeling comfortable having a conversation with employees.
- In-depth understanding around three of the most significant issues: depression and anxiety, substance abuse and suicide prevention.
- Discussion on the mind-body connection and the important role exercise and nutrition play.
- Giving leaders the comfort and encouragement they need to recognize, understand and respond with compassion and effectiveness.
Our mental health toolkit also includes a variety of resources and educational seminars that are available to employees to help increase awareness, provide support and further develop a caring, inclusive workplace culture.
In addition, Independent Health employs a comprehensive team of mental health professionals – including psychiatrists, mental health nurses, social workers, pharmacists, licensed counselors and behavioral health case managers – that is dedicated to helping our members obtain timely, individualized and effective evidence-based care and treatment for mental health issues and substance use disorders.
If you are an employer who is interested in supporting your employees’ mental health, we may be able to assist you. Contact your broker or an Independent Health benefit consultant today.
Reddy Bikeshare: A healthy and fun way to explore the Buffalo-Niagara region
As a way to encourage exercise, recreation and green transportation, Independent Health and Shared Mobility, Inc. have once again teamed up to launch the sixth season of the popular Reddy Bikeshare program. Nearly 400 GPS-enabled Reddy bikes are currently available for short-term rent at 90 stations throughout Buffalo and Niagara Falls.
Now that the weather is turning for the better, it’s the perfect time to hop on a Reddy bike. Here’s how it works:
- Sign up – Download the Social Bicycles (SoBi) app on your mobile device or on the web and select your ride pass to get started. Ensure that your phone’s GPS is enabled to find bikes available nearby.
- Reserve a bike – Use the app to reserve a bike or simply walk up to it and enter your account number on the bike’s keypad. When prompted, enter your 4-digit PIN to release the lock and start your ride. Remember to ride safely and obey all traffic laws.
- Enjoy your time – You can make multiple stops during your ride without a parking fee. Press the “HOLD” button and lock the bike to a rack. Just enter your 4-digit PIN to unlock and continue riding.
- Lock – When you reach your destination, lock the bike and check the keypad to ensure your trip has ended.
Reddy Bikeshare is coming off its most successful year to date as more people signed up to ride a Reddy bike in 2020 than in the previous four seasons combined. Since 2016, members have ridden a staggering 282,882 pedal-powered miles – which is a distance farther than that of the moon – and burned a collective 11.4 million calories.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Reddy Bike’s Fleet Team has increased bike cleaning and sanitation procedures. Plus, Independent Health members are eligible for a 20 percent discount off an annual Reddy Bikeshare membership. To learn how to register for a membership, as well as view prices and a map of bike stations, visit reddybikeshare.com
Your employees can earn a reward by “going green”
Beginning mid-May, Independent Health will be rolling out a 90-day incentive program to your employees who are Independent Health members. We are excited to reward our members for “going green” by choosing paperless delivery for their Explanation of Benefits (EOB). To receive a reward, members will have to create a secure account either through the MyIH mobile app or on our website, if they don’t have an account already. To learn more about this incentive program, please contact your account manager.
Reminder about free virtual health and wellness classes
Independent Health would like to remind you that your employees can take part in free health and wellness classes through our Health Hub. This is yet another way we are helping our community stay active, connected and healthy during these challenging times. We recently emailed a schedule of upcoming classes to our commercial plan members. Registration is not required for any of the classes.